Wednesday, 17 November 2010

It's been 30 years since the last large-scale British royal event: the fabulous marriage ceremony that joined together the futures of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, and which took place at St Paul's Cathedral in London. I was studying at university at the time and was living in a residential college with a common room and a large TV and I remember the approval of the exclusively male watchers as they lounged around that small concrete room. Before that it's necessary to travel back in time another 28 years to reach the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. My mother remembers even today the procession the young queen made through Melbourne, and has told me how beautiful she thought Elizabeth was, especially her skin (!).

Last night after dinner (about 9.30pm here in Australia) news of the engagement of Kate Middleton and Prince William hit the interwebz with an official announcement and it was quickly echoed by people in this country and, presumably, elsewhere too. Groans mingled with applause as each of them reacted to the news in their own way. In Australia, the memory of the republic referendum of 1999 is still vivid for many and the language of royalty tends to grate on their ears (one person said she would leave Australia unless the British media stopped referring to Middleton as a "commoner"). Regardless how people feel, the reality is that William is likely to be King of Australia (William V, in fact, following Charles III) at some point in the future, so we should take notice of who his wife will be when that happens.

In Britain, there has been, almost exclusively, a positive reaction, at least in the public sphere, led (if you choose) by the prime minister's prediction of "a great day of national celebration". British workers have seen their economy struggle hardily to cope in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and the announcement could probably not have been better-timed, as it will become a lightening rod for public commentary in the months leading up to the nuptials, which are likely to be held in the northern summer.

Talk of Australia's political settlement has not flourished wildly in recent years, but the wedding will no doubt catalyse both monarchists and republicans to public debate. Some have said that it might be timely for Australia to transition to a new status when Elizabeth steps down. At 84, Elizabeth has been queen for 58 years. Charles has been waiting patiently but he's not going to have to wait much longer, and the Middleton-Windsor marriage will probably delay the succession until at least 2013, after the Olympics that will be held in London. Regardless of the vagaries of queenly plans for the immediate future, expect discussion in Australia to echo in a distorted way what's going to be said publicly in the UK, where this event will matter more than it does here.

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